Tech Briefs

State-Chart Autocoder

A computer program translates Unified Modeling Language (UML) representations of state charts into source code in the C, C++, and Python computing languages. (“State charts” signifies graphical descriptions of states and state transitions of a spacecraft or other complex system.) The UML representations constituting the input to this program are generated by using a UML-compliant graphical design program to draw the state charts. The generated source code is consistent with the “quantum programming” approach, which is so named because it involves discrete states and state transitions that have features in common with states and state transitions in quantum mechanics. Quantum programming enables efficient implementation of state charts, suitable for real-time embedded flight software. In addition to source code, the autocoder program generates a graphical- user-interface (GUI) program that, in turn, generates a display of state transitions in response to events triggered by the user. The GUI program is wrapped around, and can be used to exercise the state-chart behavior of, the generated source code. Once the expected state-chart behavior is confirmed, the generated source code can be augmented with a software interface to the rest of the software with which the source code is required to interact.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Software, Architecture, Computer software and hardware, Displays

Pointing History Engine for the Spitzer Space Telescope

The Pointing History Engine (PHE) is a computer program that provides mathematical transformations needed to reconstruct, from downlinked telemetry data, the attitude of the Spitzer Space Telescope (formerly known as the Space Infrared Telescope Facility) as a function of time. The PHE also serves as an example for development of similar pointing reconstruction software for future space telescopes. The transformations implemented in the PHE take account of the unique geometry of the Spitzer telescope-pointing chain, including all data on relative alignments of components, and all information available from attitude-determination instruments. The PHE makes it possible to coordinate attitude data with observational data acquired at the same time, so that any observed astronomical object can be located for future reference and re-observation. The PHE is implemented as a subroutine used in conjunction with telemetry-formatting services of the Mission Image Processing Laboratory of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to generate the Boresight Pointing History File (BPHF). The BPHF is an archival database designed to serve as Spitzer’s primary astronomical reference documenting where the telescope was pointed at any time during its mission.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Software, Mathematical models, Computer software and hardware, Data exchange, Optics, Telemetry, Documentation

Low-Friction, High-Stiffness Joint for Uniaxial Load Cell

Friction and hysteresis are minimized.

A universal-joint assembly has been devised for transferring axial tension or compression to a load cell. To maximize measurement accuracy, the assembly is required to minimize any moments and non-axial forces on the load cell and to exhibit little or no hysteresis. The requirement to minimize hysteresis translates to a requirement to maximize axial stiffness (including minimizing backlash) and a simultaneous requirement to minimize friction. In practice, these are competing requirements, encountered repeatedly in efforts to design universal joints. Often, universal-joint designs represent compromises between these requirements.

Posted in: Briefs, Mechanical Components, Mechanics, Design processes, Measurements, Universal joints

Magnet-Based System for Docking of Miniature Spacecraft

The capture envelope for this system is approximated by a 5-in. (12.7-cm) cube.

A prototype system for docking a miniature spacecraft with a larger spacecraft has been developed by engineers at the Johnson Space Center. Engineers working on Mini AERCam, a free-flying robotic camera, needed to find a way to successfully dock and undock their miniature spacecraft to refuel the propulsion and recharge the batteries. The subsystems developed (see figure) include (1) a docking port, designed for the larger spacecraft, which contains an electromagnet, a ball lock mechanism, and a service probe; and (2) a docking cluster, designed for the smaller spacecraft, which contains either a permanent magnet or an electromagnet.

Posted in: Briefs, Mechanical Components, Mechanics, Attitude control, Electromagnetic compatibility, Robotics, Magnetic materials, Refueling, Spacecraft

Ground-Based Correction of Remote-Sensing Spectral Imagery

Software has been developed for an improved method of correcting for the atmospheric optical effects (primarily, effects of aerosols and water vapor) in spectral images of the surface of the Earth acquired by airborne and spaceborne remote-sensing instruments. In this method, the variables needed for the corrections are extracted from the readings of a radiometer located on the ground in the vicinity of the scene of interest. The software includes algorithms that analyze measurement data acquired from a shadow-band radiometer. These algorithms are based on a prior radiation transport software model, called MODTRAN™, that has been developed through several versions up to what are now known as MODTRAN4™ and MODTRAN5™. These components have been integrated with a user-friendly Interactive Data Language (IDL) front end and an advanced version of MODTRAN4™. Software tools for handling general data formats, performing a Langleytype calibration, and generating an output file of retrieved atmospheric parameters for use in another atmospheric- correction computer program known as “FLAASH” have also been incorporated into the present software. Concomitantly with the software described thus far, there has been developed a version of FLAASH that utilizes the retrieved atmospheric parameters to process spectral image data.

Posted in: Briefs, Software, Calibration, Mathematical models, Computer software and hardware, Imaging and visualization, Remote sensing

Electromechanically Actuated Valve for Controlling Flow Rate

A ball screw would be both an actuator and a flow-control component.

A proposed valve for controlling the rate of flow of a fluid would include an electric-motor-driven ball-screw mechanism for adjusting the seating element of the valve to any position between fully closed and fully open. The motor would be of a type that can be electronically controlled to rotate to a specified angular position and to rotate at a specified rate, and the ball screw would enable accurate linear positioning of the seating element as a function of angular position of the motor. Hence, the proposed valve would enable fine electronic control of the rate of flow and the rate of change of flow.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Mechanical Components, Mechanics, Microelectromechanical devices, Fasteners, Fittings, Valves, Electric motors

Plumbing Fixture for a Microfluidic Cartridge

A fixture has been devised for making the plumbing connections between a microfluidic device in a replaceable cartridge and an external fluidic system. The fixture includes a 0.25-in. (6.35-mm) thick steel plate, to which the cartridge is fastened by two 10-32 thumb screws. The plate holds one plumbing fitting for the inlet and one for the outlet of the microfluidic device. Each fitting includes a fused-silica tube of 0.006-in. (≈0.15-mm) inside diameter within a fluorinated ethylene-propylene (FEP) tube of 0.0155-in. (≈0.39-mm) inside diameter and 0.062-in. (≈1.57-mm) outside diameter. The FEP tube is press-fit through the steel plate so that its exposed end is flush with the surface of the plate, and the silica tube protrudes 0.03 in. (≈0.76 mm) from the plate/FEPtube- end surface. The cartridge includes a glass cover plate that contains 0.06-mm-wide access ports. When the cartridge is fastened to the steel plate, the silica tubes become inserted through the access ports and into the body of the cartridge, while the ends of the FEP tubes become butted against the glass cover plate. An extremely tight seal is thereby made.

Posted in: Briefs, Mechanical Components, Mechanics, Seals and gaskets, Hydraulic equipment

Camera Mount for a Head-Up Display

A mounting mechanism was designed and built to satisfy requirements specific to a developmental head-up display (HUD) to be used by pilots in a Boeing 757 airplane. This development was necessitated by the fact that although such mounting mechanisms were commercially available for other airplanes, there were none for the 757. The mounting mechanism supports a miniature electronic camera that provides a forward view. The mechanism was designed to be integrated with the other HUD instrumentation and to position the camera so that what is presented to the pilot is the image acquired by the camera, overlaid with alphanumeric and/or graphical symbols, from a close approximation of the pilot’s natural forward perspective. The mounting mechanism includes an L-shaped mounting arm that can be adjusted easily to the pilot’s perspective, without prior experience. The mounting mechanism is lightweight and flexible and presents little hazard to the pilot.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Mechanical Components, Mechanics, Imaging and visualization, Head-up displays, Commercial aircraft

Core-Cutoff Tool

Damage and waste are reduced.

A tool makes a cut perpendicular to the cylindrical axis of a core hole at a predetermined depth to free the core at that depth. The tool does not damage the surrounding material from which the core was cut, and it operates within the core-hole kerf.

Posted in: Briefs, Manufacturing & Prototyping, Tools and equipment, Milling, Waste materials

Single-Point Access to Data Distributed on Many Processors

A description of the functions and data structures is defined that would be necessary to implement the Chapel concept of distributions, domains, allocation, access, and interfaces to the compiler for transformations from Chapel source to their run-time implementation for these concepts. A complete set of object-oriented operators is defined that enables one to access elements of a distributed array through regular arithmetic index sets, giving the programmer the illusion that all the elements are collocated on a single processor. This means that arbitrary regions of the arrays can be fragmented and distributed across multiple processors with a single point of access. This is important because it can significantly improve programmer productivity by allowing the programmers to concentrate on the high-level details of the algorithm without worrying about the efficiency and communication details of the underlying representation.

Posted in: Briefs, TSP, Information Sciences, Computer software and hardware, Data acquisition and handling, Data management, Productivity

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